“The office of corporation counsel is not the attorney to the mayor.”The accolades for Hartford’s new mayor, former city council president Pedro Segarra, have been rolling in, including a recent front page profile in the Hartford Courant based on a reporter’s day spent with Segarra — access that would have been unthinkable in the Eddie Perez era.
Segarra, who replaced Perez as mayor when Perez was convicted on fraud charges, is more difficult to reach now than in his days on the city council — understandable given his expanded duties and the sobering list of problems facing the city. And everyone seems to agree he has already brought a degree of openness to city hall that contrasts sharply with his predecessor.
The new mayor also has hit the ground running, making lots of appearances at lots of events and creating news of his own — standing in front of the Butt Ugly building north of downtown soon after taking office to declare he’s determined to bring it down; and a few weeks later, standing in a shopworn corner of Colt Park to announce a new campaign to rejuvenate the city’s long-suffering parks.
As of two weeks ago, Segarra had already had his first meeting with Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, D-Hartford, to begin discussing the city’s approach to the 2011 session of the General Assembly. Segarra is well aware Hartford has been criticized for getting too much money from the state and not spending it wisely. He says in an interview with the Advocate that he met with Kirkley-Bey to make sure “we coalesce into one solid block so when we go to the state Capitol it’s not 10 different people asking for 10 different things.”
At the same time Segarra holds the state responsible for putting the city in a position of having to fulfill unfunded mandates at a time when budgets are tight.
“I have a meeting coming up with the mayors of the major cities to see what’s the best approach,” says Segarra. “Overall it’s the same issue. How are cities put in a situation where we have all these responsibilities, many of which are underfunded? How is it we have sufficient revenue to cover basic things, police, fire, public works, education?”
Segarra’s right-hand man from the beginning has been Chief Operating Officer David Panagore, held over from the Perez administration. Panagore largely steered clear of the political infighting and rumor-mongering that surrounded Perez, which may explain why he survived the transition to Segarra and former corporation counsel John Rose did not. Rose was replaced as the city’s top lawyer by Saundra Kee Borges, an old Segarra friend and ally.
Rose was widely seen on the city council as a partisan for Perez, so much so that the council ended up retaining its own lawyer, Allan Taylor of Day Pitney, because it felt its interests were not being represented by Rose. Segarra was very much a part of that decision, but hopes that under his administration the council will feel differently about Borges.
“The office of corporation counsel is not the attorney to the mayor,” says Segarra. “The office of corporation counsel is the attorney general for the city, so to speak. They have to make sure the city council gets the best legal advice and that their rights as a body are protected in terms of their powers. It’s the same for me.”